Continuing on my survey of places of major historical importance, I now come to Seodaemun Prison. This prison has a rather disreputable position in Korean history, given that this was where the Japanese tended to imprison independence activists. It continued to be used until 1987 as a prison. After that time, it was closed down and turned into a museum to commemorate those who suffered on behalf of Korean independence. Like the Korean Independence Hall in Cheonan, Seodaemun Prison has a number of rather graphic displays of the various forms of torture inflicted on prisoners.
The grounds are quite lovely and the buildings don’t look too overly menacing. That is, with the exception of the death house. Here is the main gate.
The buildings are all red brick. Some of them, such as the administration building, are really quite nice-looking. But as we all know, appearances can be deceiving.
You can, of course, see inside the jail cells. Here is a regular cell and another used for solitary confinement.
From the testimony of those who endured imprisonment at Seodaemun Prison, many of the tortures inflicted by the prison guards were unbelievably cruel. In old Korea, flogging was a rather common form of punishment. The guilty party was tied down to cross-like table and beaten. In the Republic of Singapore and Malaysia, caning, or the beating of the buttocks with a rattan cane, is still a form of punishment mandated by law for certain crimes. There are many accounts of torture given by recent prisoners in the prisons of the People’s Republic of China, as well.
The Japanese used to imprison and execute opponents of Japanese colonial policy without a trial. However, due to international outcry, they began to have trials. In Japan and Korea today, the favourite form of evidence is a confession. Korea has, I believe, made real advances in how such confessions are obtained. They must be made to a prosecutor and not to the police for validity. There have been people acquitted because a confession was made to the police and not to the prosecutor. In Japan, even if the confession is coerced by the police, it still has legal validity and no court will reject a confession once made. However, things are changing in Japan as they are now beginning to experiment with juries, as is Korea. In a very rare successful appeal a couple of years ago, a Japanese appeals court overturned the convictions of a number of people whom the police obtained confessions from.
There was also a mock up of a gallows where you could have the experience of standing on the trap door. I didn’t want to do that, though. This sign, in English, Korean, and Japanese speaks of how many of the anti-colonial activists met their ends. Click on the photo to enlarge it.
At some distance away from the buildings is the death house. They ask that no photos be taken inside. Inside, there are about three gallows along with seating for the guards witnessing the executions. I am not aware if these were used following Korean independence.
The administration building looks like it could be a school, or something. It doesn’t look as sinister as it probably should.
There are also a few watchtowers still left. They look to be from perhaps the 1920s.
Finally, an altar of remebrance bears the names of those who died as martyrs for the cause of Korean independence. Some illustrious people met their ends here, some at the gallows and others from torture-related injuries. As such, this prison is meant to remain as an everlasting memorial to the precious gift of national sovereignity and as a reminder of the horrors of Korea’s colonial past.